The Observer: Poverty among Native Americans
"Dollar Trading and Pawn has something for everyone on the move around Arizona's badlands. Polished leather saddles with fine decorative carvings are racked up at the door for about $500 apiece. They are popular with cowboys and those still widely referred to in Arizona as "the Indians". Lassos are strung up under the veranda.

Truckers hauling foreign car parts from California ports to American assembly lines pull off the highway outside Winslow to buy secondhand Citizens' Band radios and pawned electronics. Tourists pick up the local handmade trinkets, Native American dolls dressed in feathered headgear that no tribe in the region ever wore, and Navajo jewellery that says they've been to Arizona, even if only for a few hours largely spent on the interstate highway.

But the vast majority of regulars through Dollar's doors are Native Americans. Some are hawking homemade wool blankets from the sheep that graze the desert. But increasingly, as recession drives the local population on to part-time working or out of a job, they come to pawn the family possessions. "Business is booming, excellent," said Ben Hatch, Dollar's owner. "It's 90% Native Americans. They need a few more dollars to get by. People don't have the money they used to have."

Drive in any direction from the interstate highway and the asphalt increasingly gives way to washboard roads probing deep into the vast Native American reservations dotted with towns that don't feature on tourist maps. The reservations are a fraction of the land once overseen by the Navajo and smaller tribes but still stretch through thousands of square miles of northern Arizona and New Mexico. Here the worst economic crisis in seven decades is deepening a crisis of identity. Some tribal elders complain that the young are being lost to the American pursuit of the good life, or at least the means to make a living."

Get the Story:
The Grapes of Wrath revisited: The plight of Native Americans (The Observer 8/30)